Questions about LEED for Neighborhood Development? Check out the following resource provided by USGBC: A Local Government Guide to LEED for Neighborhood Development
Where is Green Building Now?
By Cole Cappel
Austin launched the nation’s first official green building program in 1990. The program, now known as Austin Energy Green Building, forged the path for sustainable building and construction, as many other regional and national organizations followed by developing green building programs of their own. In the last two decades, these green building programs have grown along with advances in building techniques and technologies, and several champions—the people who promote and implement green building projects—have emerged.
We recently spoke with three Austin area professionals, Peter Pfeiffer, Gayle Borst, and Dennis Werner, who have over 50 years combined experience in the green building industry, to get their perspectives on the current and future state of green building.
Peter Pfeiffer was instrumental in starting the Austin Energy Green Building Program and is currently a Principal at Barley & Pfeiffer Architects, a firm pioneering the use of environmentally responsive design and construction techniques. Gayle Borst is the President/CEO of Stewardship Inc., the first Austin architecture firm devoted exclusively to sustainable design, and the Executive Director of Design, Build, Live, a local nonprofit formed to practice and promote natural building and sustainable living. Dennis Werner is an Area Sales Manager for MHI Central Texas, the leading production homebuilder in Texas who recently committed to building only LEED certified homes.
Question: What’s the status of the green building movement in Central Texas?
Peter Pfeiffer: Our local green building movement is probably the most established program in the country. From the point of view of the local building community, building green is not even considered an option anymore. The trend I am seeing here is away from the gizmos and more into helping people make sound design decisions.
People are going back to the tried and true method of designing a house to use less energy in the first place. This design first approach utilizes green design principles: shading the windows, light colored roof, keeping the air clean in the house by not attaching a garage. It is going back to a more common sense approach, away from the expensive gizmos, to make things better.
Gayle Borst: There is a general raising of the bar in green building especially with an increasing interest in sustainable design. The codes have gotten better, and Austin Energy Green Building is always a step or two above code minimum. Since more people are participating in that program, we are not just seeing more efficient buildings but more well designed efficient buildings.
I am also particularly pleased that things are happening in smaller communities as well as in some of the big, conservative towns like Dallas. If you meet with people in the city of Dallas they are proud that they are LEED AP. It is really good to see people put this kind of emphasis in green building.
Dennis Werner: Green building has definitely picked up within the last 10 and even the last 20 years, especially here in Austin. Green building has been attractive here because Austin tends to have a mix of a younger generation and those in the high tech field, so its citizens are fairly informed, well educated, and with a generally higher average income compared to other large cities. That mindset leads people to gravitate toward much greener initiatives.
Going “green” is not entirely focused on energy conservation, but as long as the price of oil remains high, people will focus on energy conservation, which lends itself to green initiatives.
Question: What needs to happen to further advance green building?
Peter Pfeiffer: Smart, climate-specific design. It is incumbent upon the architect to help people set their building’s goals before we start designing the project so we begin with the smartest design possible. It is about focusing on the design, as well as continuing to educate the public on the benefits of climate-specific design. We also have to make the financial case of green building to people because when push comes to shove, every family is concerned with price.
Gayle Borst: I was going to say the costs need to be a little more competitive, but that’s not really the case. We do affordable green housing at an Austin Energy Green Building level of 4 and 5 stars, so the cost is not a problem. It is really an old fallacy. I think the myths that say green is expensive just need to be debunked. We need to make more people aware that they don’t have to spend huge amounts of money to be green.
Dennis Werner: Ultimately, anything that anybody sells is going to be a function of what the consumer demands. If the consumer demands a green home, then that is what they are going to get. The green products that we put in a home have to be reasonably priced or the consumer has to see a benefit to that green product. I think we need to do better at making consumers aware of the benefits of a green home.
Green Products, News, and Case Studies: Building Green
Green Ideas, Advice, and links to Home Professionals: Green Home Guide
Green Strategies, Buildings, and Performance Data: Green Building Information Gateway